Sunday, October 11, 2015

Chocolate Pumpkin Cupcakes with Orange Cream Cheese Frosting

It's October, which means it's both pumpkin season in general and birthday season at work! Somehow we have many colleagues with October birthdays, which gives us an excuse to have a cake day or two...and on other days, trays of snacks and hors d'oeuvres magically appear in the teachers' lounge. These are going to work with me in the morning for the first October cake day!

I've been using this version of a recipe from Country Living for at least five years, and it yields a LOT of cake. It's supposed to make 36 cupcakes, but this time I got 36 regular and 12 minis. It freezes well, though, so you can throw a dozen in the freezer (frosted or unfrosted) and eat them in a week or a month, if they last that long!

Nifty double-decker cupcake carrier from Sur la Table, I think...
Many people are intimidated by the idea of making cake from scratch, but it's not too complicated. What differentiates a cake from a muffin is that a cake's ingredients are divided into groups of wet and dry ingredients and assembled in a particular order to achieve a lovely, light structure, whereas a muffin's ingredients are all dumped together at once, quick-bread style. Both have their place at the table, but in general I prefer the light texture of cake. 

First, pre-heat the oven to 350 and set out the cupcake pans with liners. Sometimes I use the fancy patterned ones from the party store, but today I'm using the solid pastel colors from the dollar store! I only have enough pans for two dozen, so I used one of these pans again once those came out of the oven. 

Get out a large bowl for the dry ingredients and a medium bowl for the wet ingredients. 

In the large bowl, sift or whisk together: 

-2 1/2 c plus 2 Tbsp all-purpose flour 

-1 c plus 2 Tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder
-1 Tbsp baking powder
-1 1/2 tsp baking soda
-1 1/2 tsp cinnamon
-1 tsp freshly grated nutmeg (if you have it, pre-ground if you don't)
You can buy a special nutmeg grater thingy like many Italian kitchens have, or you can grate it with a regular microplane grater. 

In the medium bowl, whisk together: 

-3/4 c buttermilk

-1 1/2 c pumpkin puree (not pumpkin pie filling - that has too much spice in it)
-2 tsp vanilla extract
In a very large bowl or the bowl of a stand mixer, cream together on medium speed until light in color (2-3 min):

-2 sticks softened unsalted butter

-1 Tbsp grapeseed, canola, or olive oil
-1 1/2 c dark or light brown sugar 
-1 1/2 c granulated sugar

Scrape down the sides of the bowl, then at medium-high speed add, one at a time, scraping down the sides again after each one:

-5 large eggs

This process of adding the eggs one at a time builds the structure of the cake. You'll still have a yummy cake if you dump them all in at once, but the texture will be a bit different. 

To keep the structure of the cake, alternate additions of the dry and wet ingredients. Add 1/3 of the flour mixture, beat just until incorporated, scrape down the sides, then add 1/3 of the buttermilk mixture. Repeat until all the ingredients are incorporated. 

When you add the dry ingredients, start on low and work your way back up to medium-high to avoid flour flying all over the kitchen!

Scoop about 1/4 cup into each cupcake paper (2/3 to 3/4 full). Bake for about 18 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in a cupcake comes out clean. 

Remove the cupcakes from the oven and allow them to cool for at least 20 minutes before frosting. 

Let cool in the pan for a few minutes before removing to a baking rack to finish cooling. 

Next, get the icing together. 

Beat on medium to mix well: 
-2 8 oz pkgs cream cheese
-1 stick unsalted butter
-2 Tbsp orange juice
-1 1/2 tsp orange zest
-2 tsp vanilla
Add and beat well, covering the bowl with a towel to keep it from blowing all over the kitchen when you turn on the machine: 
-2 lbs powdered (aka confectioner's) sugar
Spread the frosting on the cooled cupcakes with a spatula, a long table knife, or an ice cream scoop. To freeze or carry to a party, let the icing chill in the fridge before wrapping up in plastic or in a cupcake carrier. 

Optional: color the frosting

If you want to make two colors for decorating the cupcakes, take out a small amount (1-2 cups) and set aside for the decorating color. 

Add orange (or red and yellow) food coloring to the larger bowl of frosting and beat until it's even in color. 

Add green or black frosting to the smaller bowl, then add that frosting to a pastry bag fitted with a small tip or a ziploc bag with a tiny bit of one corner cut off. 

If you're working with the two colors and have lots of time or little hands to keep busy, make jack-o-lantern or pumpkin decorations! Very fun, but I've got other kitchen projects going tonight. 

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